The United Nations has decided not to grant the Jewish National Fund access to its Economic and Social Council that is currently extended to more than 2,800 nongovernmental organizations.
By a vote of eight to seven (the nations opposed included Egypt, Qatar and Sudan) with three abstentions, the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organization rejected the JNF's application on Friday. In January, consideration of the application had been delayed at the request of Qatar and Egypt.
The UN currently grants more than 2,800 NGOs consultative status, which allows their representatives to testify in their areas of expertise, and to initiate studies and conferences on water and sustainable development.
"The bottom line is Palestine versus Israel and Israel's right to exist," said Joseph Hess, JNF national vice president for government relations, on Monday. "The eight countries who voted against us weren't voting against the significance of our work. It was all about politics."
"Not a single delegation complained about the quality of our work. They looked at it with great admiration" he said.
Leading up to the vote, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-New York) joined a bipartisan effort led by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) to urge the UN to grant the JNF-US the same rights of access enjoyed by the other NGOs.
Fourteen senators signed a letter that was delivered to the 19 permanent representatives of the UN committee, urging them to vote to grant the JNF "consultative status" with the UN Economic and Social Council.
"I am deeply disappointed to learn that the Jewish National Fund was denied general consultative status to the United Nations," Casey said. "The Jewish National Fund is a global environmental leader and would have used their environmental expertise to help international community focus on environmental issues.
"The JNF will now have to wait three years before they are able to file another application. I will continue to fight on behalf of the Jewish National Fund and I look forward to the day when they are granted consultative status."
Through the International Arid Lands Consortium, an independent nonprofit organization that explores problems and solutions of arid and semiarid regions, the JNF has worked with Jordan, Pakistan and other nations.
"We have done significant work outside the borders of Israel to help these nations... feed people and provide them with sufficient water," said Hess.
Part of the JNF's interest in joining UNESOC was to help the UN meet its Millennium Development Goals of 2015, which include water and sustainable development. Only this year, Israel joined UNESOC.
"If you look at the history of the United Nations, you see a lack of acceptance of the State of Israel," said Hess.
A representative of the Palestine Observer Mission said the JNF had not provided proof that it was not active in the "Palestinian territories." Together with the Syrian delegation, the mission had lobbied the committee to reject the JNF application.
"I felt like I was re-experiencing November 29, 1947, all over again," said Rabbi Eric Lankin, chief of institutional advancement and education at the JNF. "Our work will continue, and this won't slow us down for one moment. If China came and asked for our help, we'd be first in line."